Do you know what the term mix by hand means? It might not mean what you think! To know exactly what it means in any particular recipe it helps to know when the recipe was written to really understand this term.
A few weeks ago, I was going through my Mom’s handwritten cookbook that she began in the very early 1930s. As I read through the entries I was reminded of the name, “Maude”, a woman with great depth of baking knowledge and a big heart. Maude was the woman who taught my Mom about baking and proportions and often stated in her recipes that the butter and sugar were to be mixed “by hand”.
Today, we would think those instructions meant that we would use a spoon to beat the butter and sugar. But, in days past, it really did mean to mix with your hands. The warmth of your hand would melt together the butter and sugar as they were worked against the side and bottom of the bowl. So, if you find a recipe that states to mix by hand, it is very likely an early recipe using the creaming method.
What is the Creaming Method?
For me, it was the first leavening method I learned for combining baking ingredients and I still use it in most of the cakes and cookies I make from scratch. It is easy to master and once you've read a recipe that utilizes it, you will recognize it over and over again in other recipes. But what is it? It is a method and order of combining ingredients. You beat fat and sugar together and then add your additional ingredients. The technical purpose of the creaming method is to incorporate air into your batter as you prepare it, which makes a more tender crumb and fluffier frosting.
Yay electric mixers!
These days we are very fortunate to have electric mixers, which makes the process of creaming very easy. The steps are simple and the same as my Mom wrote more than 80 years ago.
- Beat together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light in color and the texture is fluffy.
- Continue to beat and add eggs one at a time until each is fully incorporated and add any flavoring.
- Sift together flour and other dry ingredients and measure liquids.
- Alternately add the flour mixture and liquids to the creamed mixture until all is incorporated.
- Add any stir-ins such as chopped nuts, coconut, and flavored chips.
♡ The key to the creaming method is getting the butter and sugar as light and fluffy as possible!
Using a mixer always makes this task easy as the mixer quickly incorporates air to make the mixture light and fluffy. If you take your time and let your mixer work the butter and sugar for at least 5 minutes, you will see the mixture become lighter in color and fluffier in texture. If you do not have a mixer, you can use a spoon followed by a whisk. It will just take a little longer and will give you a good workout.
If you choose to go completely old school and mix by hand, follow up with a whisk to get some air incorporated. Just be aware that the texture of your bake will be denser, but just as delicious!